Despite many socio-cultural problems and even an economic depression few years back, the United States of America remains the ultimate destination for many people from across the world, especially developing countries. Seen as the land of opportunity and freedom, immigrants employ several means to get permanent residence status, one of which is marrying for the green card. But in the end is it a good idea committing marriage fraud for a green card?
In the US, the green card is an identification card attesting to the permanent resident status of an alien or a person who is not an original citizen of the country. Formerly known as the Alien Registration Card or Alien Registration Receipt Card, the document is informally referred to as the green card because it had been green in color from 1946 until 1964 and since May 2010, has reverted to that color. Thus obtaining a green card refers to the process of becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident or LPR in the US. Once a person has acquired a green card, it means he/she has been officially granted immigration benefits which include permission to reside and undertake employment in the USA. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS has the authority to grant green cards to applicants. However even after obtaining one, the holder must maintain permanent resident status and can be removed from the United States if certain conditions of this status are not met.
How does it work?
The green card wedding racket works by arranging a wedding between a regular US citizen and an alien who has come to US from a foreign country and is either staying on a temporary visa or is an illegal immigrant. The US citizen usually agrees to the wedding in return for a fat fee while the agents, touts and other middlemen get their own cut in the monetary transaction. The entire financial burden in this marriage fraud is borne by the alien who wants a green card at any cost. Once someone is legally wedded to a US citizen, he/she begins the wait for the coveted green card. The American citizen or LPR files an I-130 petition form with USCIS if they live in the United States or, if they live abroad, at an American embassy or consulate1. Approval of the petition signifies that a consular officer or USCIS adjudicator has verified that a valid, qualifying relationship exists between an American petitioner and foreign applicant. Among the documents that the couple are required to produce while applying for the green card are typically the petition itself, marriage and birth certificates, passports, and supporting documents and photos meant to prove the validity of the relationship. Typically, couples must remain legally married for two years before the conditional status on the immigrant spouse’s green card is removed. At the interview which decides whether the conditional status should be removed, the couple is supposed to produce documentary evidence that they still live together like joint tax returns and bank accounts. Once the immigrant’s conditional status has been removed - usually after two years – the couple is free to divorce with no repercussions. And three years after removing the conditional status on the green card, the immigrant is eligible for American citizenship and after that can petition to bring his/her relatives to the United States. In this way an immigrant who had no way of becoming an American citizen on the basis of his/her professional skills or other legal grounds, is able to acquire the green card or permanent residency status.
The primary reason which makes marrying someone for a green card a bad idea is that it entails marriage fraud. This is a federal crime and the punishment of trying to cheat immigration officials can be severe. An alien accused by authorities of marriage fraud can be deported and barred from ever obtaining a green card. And a US citizen who knowingly marries to evade immigration laws can face five years in jail2. Indeed in recent years, United States has come down hard on fraudulent marriages which promise green card in return for money. In the fall of 2005 a group of 30 conspirators was busted by immigration officials near Miami for arranging or participating in a long-running marriage-for-money scheme. The arrests were the culmination of a two-year probe, dubbed Operation Honeymooners that immigration officers say involved more than 100 fraudulent marriages. More recently the federal government agents have cracked fake marriage scams in South Florida, Chicago, Des Moines and Seattle where ring leaders were believed to have paid U.S. citizens to marry aliens so that the aliens could earn permanent residency. Despite the romanticized implications of marriage for green card as depicted in Hollywood movies like the Green Card and The Proposal, federal officials take marriage frauds very seriously. For them it is much more than a cat and mouse chase – it is a matter of national security and the offenders are likely to be punished accordingly when convicted.
Apart from the very real legal dangers of marrying for green card, it is hardly a good idea even if one is able to get past immigration officials. This is because any relationship which is based on fraud and lies is bound to flounder in the end. And even if the spouses of such a fraudulent marriage have no intention of living with each other, still the uncertainty and the anxiety during the three year waiting period can cause both to feel really uncomfortable and miserable. It can definitely harm the quality of their lives – after all how can you be happy if you are constantly looking over your shoulder in anticipation of the law coming knocking on your doorstep? For the immigrant especially, living under the shadow of deceit and crime is no way to start a new life in the land of promise.